In an extraordinary display of bipartisan agreement, the U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to pass the Great American Outdoors Act, a bill that guarantees mandatory, permanent financing for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million a year and sets aside $1.9 billion annually for the next five years to deal with the maintenance backlog on federal public lands. According to language in the bill, backlog funds may be used for any deferred maintenance projects on lands administered by the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or the Bureau of Indian Education.
The bill passed 73-25 and now heads to the House of Representatives, where approval is anticipated.
“As the country takes steps toward economic recovery from COVID-19, federal investment in our public lands and waterways are critical to boost local economies, create thousands of jobs and protect and improve our national parks,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association.
Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, echoed the sentiment.
“The Senate’s passage of the Great American Outdoors Act is a momentous occasion," Francis wrote after the vote. "We applaud the bi-partisan effort and thank all the Senators who supported this act. It is one more huge step forward in supporting and restoring our national parks. Today, we celebrate. But our work is not done. We urge the House and this administration to move swiftly to advance the Great American Outdoors Act over the finish line."
The bill was sponsored by Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), who said he expects the act to create 100,000 new jobs. It was also co-sponsored by 57 additional senators from both sides of the aisle and received endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and six former U.S. Secretaries of the Interior.
Read the full text of the bill here.